Aug. 31, 2013 at 6:56 AM ET
Now that August 31, International Bacon Day, is finally here, we've decided to take you on a whistle-stop tour of the best bacon-centric concepts America has to offer. Ranging from popular West Coast food trucks to new-look Texas smokehouses, our picks differ greatly in attitude and approach — but an unrepentant love for all things bacon binds them together. Seek these places out to satisfy your strip-cravin’, pan-sizzlin’ heart.
Bacon (Austin, Texas)
With beef brisket dominating the smoked-meat convo in Texas, were the owners of Austin’s Bacon wary of launching a restaurant fixated on the pig? Maybe a little — but then hungry people started showing up. Instead of focusing on Internet novelties that propel pork belly to stratospheric levels of ridiculousness, Bacon was “started with an idea that we wanted to make bacon better,” says partner Jed Taylor, who debuted the restaurant over International Bacon Weekend two years ago.
That starts with preparing everything in-house, allowing the crew to get creative with signature flavors. Their most popular is Tabasco, and they also do varieties like Chinese five-spice, coconut curry and wasabi. It’s available straight-up or worked into any number of dishes, including their BLT, “double grind” burger (bacon’s worked into the patty) and bacon house salad.
Sage General Store (Long Island City, N.Y.)
“People always do pairings of wines. Why can’t you do that with bacon?” That simple, glorious thought process is what led Leslie Nilsson, owner of Queens’ Sage General Store, to launch her popular all-bacon weekend brunch. A proponent of artisanal meats, Nilsson had trouble choosing between three bacon varieties — Neuske’s, from Wisconsin; Dewig’s, from Indiana; and Ham I Am!, from Texas. The solution? Serve all three in a sampler that kicks off the prix-fixe meal.
Since Sage has just 26 seats, there’s often a wait for the three-course, $25 bacon celebration, which also features dishes like five-cheese bacon mac ‘n’ cheese and Nilsson’s infamous double chocolate bacon brownie, with bacon bits worked right into the batter.
Cousin’s Grubhouse (Philadelphia, Pa.)
In early 2013, Jim Lord and Bill Schmidt took over a luncheonette in Deep South Philly and converted it into Cousin’s Grubhouse. The plan: offer up satisfying, short-order-style food with twists not found anywhere else. “We really wanted to put some crazy stuff on the menu,” says Lord.
That includes bacon-centric options for days. Big sellers include bacon-wrapped jalapeno tater tots, a bacon-wrapped, chili-cheese-smothered “Heart Attack Dog” and bacon-infused pancakes. Next-level orderers go for the "Grubhouse Porker," a sandwich piled with bacon, fried bologna, ham and barbecue root beer pulled pork.
Bacon Bacon (San Francisco, Calif.)
“Some food trucks have these crazy names, and you don’t know what you’re standing in line for,” says Jim Angelus, who took the opposite approach with the launch of Bacon Bacon, the Bay Area’s mobile source of bacon-based happiness. So successful was Angelus’ rig, serving burgers, tacos and other street-food favorites made with Cali’s Sunnyvalley Smoked Meats bacon, that he was able to expand into brick and mortar.
The cafe closed earlier this year in connection with a neighborhood clash that earned national attention, but just last month, Angelus was officially granted permission to reopen. He hopes to have the restaurant ready to re-debut this fall; meanwhile, he’s hunting for a second permanent space and has just signed a contract for a second truck.
Burke’s Bacon Bar (Chicago, Ill.)
“People have come to realize that certain trends, ingredients and cuisines in the culinary world come and go,” says David Burke. “However, bacon seems to be an item that is here to stay.” The prolific chef, who has restaurants in four states, believes what he says — just last week, he launched Burke’s Bacon Bar in Chicago.
The shop specializes in “handwiches,” small mix-and-match sandwiches featuring flavorful bases (five-spice duck, pastrami, shrimp salad) amplified with heavy doses of bacon. The namesake meat makes it way into soups, salads and dessert (bacon peanut brittle), too.
Bad Decisions (Baltimore, Md.)
In addition to killer cocktails, Charm City’s Bad Decisions is beloved for the porky alchemy that originates in its kitchen. “The food here is pretty much all centered around bacon,” says owner John Reusing. “It’s not a good place for vegetarians.” While the nightly menu caters to the pro-bacon crowd, it’s Bad Decisions’ recurring “Bacon Nights” that bring out the most serious rasher-downing devotees. On these evenings, the dive bar turns into a full-blown baconian bacchanal, with dishes like bacon tzatziki dip and grilled peach/bacon pie coexisting on one grease-stained menu.
Cocktails earn crushed bacon rims and crispy-strip garnishes. “The bartenders will kick you out if you ask to leave the bacon off whatever you just ordered,” warns Reusing. We don’t think he’s kidding.